Sidetracking

Thinking about vacations yesterday really got me sidetracked because I kept going off on research rabbit trails. But I think I’ve made a decision. I figured that if I got a bad knot in my stomach when I thought about booking an overseas trip, it was a bad sign. Maybe that’s not the thing to do right now or this year.

Then I came across a notice of a Hilton sale and started looking around at what I could get in which places, and I could get some really nice rates in downtown Chicago, and the airfare for the dates I’m looking at would end up being free, with that voucher I got for taking a bump. I only seem to get to Chicago for conferences, so there are a couple of touristy things I want to do, like the Art Institute, and then they have a tall ship that does cruises on the lake. I have friends there I could get together with in the evenings. It could be a nice, relaxing-type vacation, the kind where there’s some stuff to do but some time to hang out in a hotel room and just chill. When I think about it, I feel good instead of getting that knot in my stomach, which is a good sign.

But I’ll have to make a decision by this weekend because I have to book the hotel by then to get the sale rates.

Now I think I should be able to concentrate on my work again.

Vacation Waffling

Earlier this year, I decided that I was going to take a big vacation this summer — actually use my passport and Global Entry status and check something off the bucket list. I was thinking Norway would be good. It’s where one side of my family came from, and it looks like something I would enjoy, with forests, mountains, and water. I started researching it, and everything I saw spoke to my soul.

But I never actually booked anything. Now I’m at the point where I really need to be buying plane tickets and making hotel reservations, and I’m balking. I started worrying about traveling to a place where I don’t speak the language (I had all these grand plans about studying Norwegian on Duolingo, but never got started) and thought maybe I’d postpone the trip to next year and do something else this summer.

So I looked into Scotland, and flying there was really expensive. I thought maybe I could fly to London and take the train, but that was actually more expensive than flying to Oslo, even though the flight to Oslo is actually a flight to London, then changing planes to fly to Oslo. I also looked up Dublin, which is a bit more expensive than flying to Oslo.

The language thing shouldn’t be that big an issue, since most Norwegians speak perfect English, and Norwegian is a somewhat Germanic language, so I can figure out a lot of things like signs based on what I know of German. I looked up hotels, and it seems like I can get some pretty reasonably.

But every time I think of actually pulling the trigger and booking, I get a knot in my stomach. I don’t know if it’s a fear of the unknown (or of spending money) or just some sense that maybe this isn’t the right thing for me to do right now. The thought of spending that amount of time in transit isn’t very appealing (though I’m considering splurging on business class).

Or maybe I should do something closer to home — a mini-break in New York or Chicago, or something like that.

Whatever I do, I guess I need to decide and plan soon. Weirdly, I probably have more fun planning hypothetical vacations than I do actually taking the trip.

I do want to go to England in the fall because there’s a book I need to research, so maybe that can be my big trip.

TV

Non-Binge Watching

I think I’m doing the streaming TV thing wrong — or, at least, different. It seems that binge-watching is the way most people go. You find a series and don’t stop watching until you’re done, with several episodes at a time, and you watch all of a series before starting something else. That’s even what the Amazon app seems to expect, since when you get to the end of an episode it will automatically play the next episode unless you stop it, and it takes several steps to stop it.

But I seem to be treating it like regular broadcast TV, so that I watch one episode at a time, and I’m watching multiple things at once, so I might only watch one episode of a show each week. It’s not quite like regular TV in that I’m not keeping to a particular schedule (this show on Monday, that show on Tuesday, etc.). It goes more by time and mood. There are some things that are less than half an hour, some right at half an hour, some at about 48 minutes, some at exactly an hour or a little more than an hour, so I pick the thing that fits into the slot I have available. Then there’s mood — am I up for a documentary? A comedy? A drama? Something I’ve seen before? Something new? Historical? Contemporary?

At the moment, I have at least six series in progress. I have watched some things on back-to-back nights, but I seldom watch more than one episode of anything at a time. Serialized things are more likely to go back-to-back, while the documentary series may get more spread out.

I’ve read some articles complaining that series aren’t written for binge-watching, so you’re not getting the proper effect if you don’t take time between episodes. I don’t know about that. I just know that I tend to get burned out if I binge on something, so I’m more likely to like it if I parcel out the episodes. If it’s something I’m really enjoying, I don’t want it to be over, so I space out the episodes. I seldom watch more than an hour or so of TV a night. And there’s the fact that there are so many things I want to watch that it’s hard to choose just one.

I guess that fits with my realization that I need to take breaks between books when I’m reading a series. I probably won’t finish the series if I try to read straight through without taking a break to read something else.

Figuring Out Success

I mentioned that book I just read about analyzing conventional wisdom about success. It’s called Barking up the Wrong Tree and is by Eric Barker, who also has a blog on the topic.

This is an interesting book to read if you’re trying to optimize your life, looking for ways to improve your career, get more done, or are just interested in human nature. I’m pretty much all of the above. It’s essentially a Mythbusters of success and motivation, except instead of doing crazy experiments, he looks up actual research studies.

One of the sections that intrigued me most was on dreaming and visualization. One of the big pop culture things about success over the past dozen or so years has been visualization, with the idea that visualizing yourself having the thing that you want will somehow magically bring it about. You hear terms like “manifesting.” Even if you’re not going so far as to believe that just thinking about something will make it happen, there’s the idea that visualizing yourself having what you want and seeing what your idea of success will look like when it happens is motivating.

It turns out that it’s the opposite. Research has found that visualization is actually de-motivating because it tricks your brain into thinking you’re already there, so you’re less likely to be motivated to work toward getting that thing. You feel like you’ve already received the reward, so you have less energy for going after it.

What does work is turning that dream into a plan. If you have a thing that you’re dreaming of having or doing, then you need to get specific about the exact outcome you really want. Then think of what you have to overcome to get it and come up with a plan to address that. Going through this process instead of just picturing the end result is more likely to energize you to go after that thing — unless the thing you want is unreasonable, and then you’ll lose motivation, which makes it a good test of your dream.

There’s also stuff about how turning steps of a plan into a game makes you more likely to carry out that plan and how to go about networking in a way that doesn’t come across like you’re trying to use people.

The other interesting takeaway is about finding a balance between overconfidence and lack of confidence. Being really confident can help you be effective because you go after things and stick with them, but that can also make you a jerk and make you blind to your own weaknesses. Having less confidence makes you work harder to improve, but makes you feel bad and may make others see you as less competent. The balance is “self compassion,” which is recognizing your faults, but forgiving yourself. See yourself accurately but don’t judge yourself harshly.

His blog looks pretty interesting, with a lot of lists of books to read or items from research on various topics.

And now, a key part of my plan to achieve my dream of publishing world domination is to spend more time writing, so off I go to work on my book.

writing life

Scheduling

I’ve been reading a book on how the conventional wisdom about success is often wrong, and I’ll discuss it in more detail once I’ve thought about it some more, but one thing it did do was reinforce my scheduling habit. The “conventional wisdom” was that you should have a to-do list to keep track of tasks, and the better way is to have a schedule, instead, because the to-do list doesn’t do you much good if you don’t allocate the time to do those items. Scheduling time to do the things you need to do makes you more likely to do them.

I actually have both. I use the Stickies app on my computer to keep a to-do list for each day of the week. When I think of something I need to do, I put it on that day’s list. Then when I do my scheduling for that day, I schedule those tasks.

But the schedule really is a life changer for people who tend to procrastinate or who have trouble getting started. I find that I get so much more done, and actually get those tasks on my list done, when I make a schedule every morning. It even works on weekends because I schedule my chores and the fun things I want to do. That makes me more likely to make time for the fun stuff. If I don’t schedule, it’s easy to fall into the trap of just surfing the Internet or watching TV, and then I feel guilty for doing that, so even that’s not fun. So, I schedule my Internet and TV time, along with other stuff I want to do, and then I can relax and enjoy all the activities.

That’s what the author of this book was showing, that while the conventional wisdom is that a schedule will make you feel constrained, and you definitely don’t want to have to stick to a plan on the weekend, it actually works out that you’re happier when you’re conscious and deliberate about how you use your time. You’re more likely to do the things that make you happy instead of wasting your time on things that are easy to fall into without thinking, and you feel better about yourself when you don’t feel like you wasted time. It’s nice to be at the end of a weekend and able to look back at what you accomplished and the things you did rather than wondering where all the time went.

I’m still working out the best way to use my schedule. I’ve learned to overestimate how much time something will take. I only schedule half-hour blocks because any tighter than that adds to stress. If a task doesn’t take that much time, it gives me a cushion in case something else takes longer or there’s an interruption. In fact, I deliberately plan a few blocks that I know will only take a few minutes. The tricky part is scheduling writing time because I know I need a few breaks just to get up and move, but those are too short to put on the schedule, but if there’s not a firm “back to work” time, it’s easy for those breaks to expand. Using the timer on my phone for the breaks helps. It also depends on which stage of a project I’m on. I want longer working blocks when I’m drafting because I want to get into a state of flow where I’m immersed in the world. When I’m editing or proofreading, I don’t want that flow because I want to be focused and aware, so I may schedule shorter blocks with breaks to go do something else in between.

And now my schedule is telling me that it’s time to write.

Learning Never Stops

The fun thing about returning to something you last worked on months ago is seeing how much you’ve grown as a writer since then. I applied my “but” or “and so” trick to this book that I put aside to work on the one I just finished, and that immediately exposed the plot problems. Now I just need to fix them and figure out what happens in the rest of the book.

That will be today’s fun, a day spent plotting (and scheming). I hope that means I can get to the writing part tomorrow.

I have to say, I really love playing in the Enchanted, Inc. world. These are such fun characters who immediately come to life for me when I write, and I love slipping into Katie’s narrative voice because I can let my snark flag fly.

I came up with some ideas on my morning walk, and now I need to see if they fit.

writing

Now, Where Was I?

Yesterday, I reread the part of the book I’d already written and I almost didn’t remember writing any of it. That was good, in a way, since I was able to read it like a reader without knowing where it was going, but it’s bad if I have to write the rest of it and I’m not sure where it’s going.

Fortunately, I have notes about my plans for the book, but when I read them, there was mention of a scene that I could visualize clearly but that wasn’t in the book. I was rather baffled because I could swear I wrote it. I was starting to think that maybe I’d just outlined it, and the outline was so vivid that I felt like I’d written it, but then I got the idea to check my backup drive. I wrote this book on a different computer, and although I was pretty sure I hadn’t written anything after the date of the last file I’d transferred to this computer, there was always a chance I’d written more. There was a little panic behind this because the computer I was writing on has died, but I was pretty good about backing up that hard drive.

And, sure enough, on the backup drive, there was a version a few days older than the one I’d read, and it did have the scene I remembered. Hooray! Thank goodness for backups. And this is why I tend to have overlapping computers, so nothing is really lost if one dies. I guess this means I’ll soon be in the market for a new laptop.

Today, I need to re-outline the book and figure out where I’m really going with it. It’s been a while, so I may have changed my mind.

writing

On to the Next Project

I’m letting the project I’ve been working on rest for a week or so before I give it another pass, which means I’m switching gears to work on something else — a new Enchanted, Inc. book. I got about halfway through it in the fall before life got crazy and I got busy on another project, but I need to get back to it and finish it so it can go out into the world and make my fans happy.

Today I’ll be rereading what I’ve already written so I can remember what it was all about. That’s a little scary because it’s been months, and there’s always a chance that I’ll look at it and go “What was I thinking?” Or I guess I could like it.

After today, I’m planning to do a massive writing binge and make a game out of seeing how fast I can finish a draft. I’m trying to break some bad time-wasting habits I’ve developed, and I hope that if I can make new habits, I can increase my productivity. The idea is that if I spend the summer, when I’m hiding indoors from the heat, diligently writing, then I can enjoy the fall — still working, but making a little more free time.

So, now, back to a book I haven’t looked at in months. I barely remember what the main plot was about, so this should almost be like reading something someone else wrote.

TV

Ending Once Upon a Time

I never did say anything about what I thought about the finale of Once Upon a Time. I suspect that anyone who’s not waiting for Netflix or the DVDs who’s planning to watch it has seen it by now, so there will be spoilers ahead.

For the most part, the wrap-up of the plot for the current season was okay. It was nice to see the original characters again, and there were some nice moments. It might have helped if the whole season had been coherent. It mostly reminded me of a story told by a kindergartener, jumping around randomly as they think of something new that’s entirely unrelated to anything that had happened before. You could cut out huge chunks of the season without affecting the plot because they ended up being utterly irrelevant to the plot. That makes me wonder if there was some mid-season course correction as they realized that either some of the things weren’t working or that viewers were responding very negatively. I was actually kind of okay with the resolution for Rumpelstiltskin (though I think his “redemption” was missing a few steps). It seemed fitting.

But then we got to the series wrap-up, which sprang out of nowhere and made absolutely zero sense on any level.

Seriously, they decided it was a good idea to merge all the various story worlds and put them into that one little town in Maine that was created by the original curse (multiple worlds, in one little town, in Maine, which isn’t that big a state?), and then supposedly all these worlds elected Regina, the former Evil Queen (who has yet to actually apologize or show remorse for committing mass murder) the literal Queen of the Universe, with all the people she spent decades tormenting bowing to her.

Even the worst Mary Sue fanfic writer would be ashamed to publicly post something like that about their self insert character. We’ve managed to top Rose getting her very own human version of the Doctor.

Not to mention, it would seriously mess with the timeline, since the season 7 characters were about 26 years into the future before being sent back in time with the curse. But now all the worlds are smushed together, so will the “present” versions of those characters still go and do the same things, so that the curse will be cast and they’ll end up back in time? What happens if that curse doesn’t get cast, so that the events that led to those characters being where they were and that led to combining the worlds never happen?

Not that the timeline of the season worked at all. We had some characters aging enough that they were played by different actors, but then there were other characters still played by the same actors, even though nearly 30 years had passed — and without any kind of aging makeup, and with those characters being treated like they were still the same age. This in a show in which for the first six seasons it was a plot point that a daughter and her parents were the same age because they’d been frozen in time while she grew up, so it was hard to tell in season seven if this was supposed to be a plot point or if they were just being sloppy.

There was so much potential in this series. They had a brilliant premise and a mostly great cast, and they occasionally created wonderful moments. But the overall direction of the series was just so very bad that this finale was fitting. I keep wanting to rewrite it all, fixing the flaws. I hope most of the cast members find good new roles and land on their feet. I’m still trying to find a way I can file off the serial numbers and create something that looks original enough to pass but that allows me to rewrite it and fix it. I have an idea, and we’ll see if I can pull it off.

writing life

When Life Affects Art

I have reached the phase of revisions in which I’m really doubting myself, and I don’t know if there’s something lacking in the story or if I’ve just spent so much time agonizing over every word that it’s lost the magic for me. This may be when I need to let someone else look at it. I do think there are some things that need to be amped up, but I’m not sure how.

I think part of my problem is that I wrote a lot of this book, particularly the end, while I was in a mode where I needed low-stress reads, so it gets very low-stress at times, and low-stress is hard to sell.

That’s one of the tricky things about writing. Even if you don’t realize you’re doing it, your real life seeps into what you’re writing. I had to scrap large parts of Damsel Under Stress and completely rewrite the ending because one of my close friends died while I was midway through the book. She’d been a kind of critique partner, someone I sent chapters to as I wrote them. You can thank her for Owen playing such a large role in the Enchanted, Inc. series because in the first draft of the first book she loved him, and that encouraged me to give him a larger role. It was hard continuing with that book after her death. I was in a kind of fog. I didn’t even realize how gloomy that book was until my agent gave me her feedback, and after I’d had time away from it and had emerged from the fog, I re-read the book again and couldn’t believe what I wrote.

With the book I’m working on now, I wrote this draft of the ending while going through a lot of medical stuff, in the phase where there had been some tests, and those results had led to the need for other tests, but I was waiting on appointments, so there was a lot of uncertainty. My TV viewing was mostly along the lines of “let’s visit these lovely gardens” or “let’s walk around to sites related to famous novels” just because I needed to keep my blood pressure and adrenaline levels down. That made it hard to write a really gripping climax in which my characters were in danger and had to save the day.

It’s also hard to write a romance novel when your boyfriend has dumped you and you’re going through a bitter “I don’t believe in love anymore” phase.

Maybe there are some writers who can immerse themselves into their worlds so much that their own lives are never reflected in their books, but I find that if I shut off my own life, the book comes across as cold and lifeless. The trick seems to be to be able to see in the work where life has made an impact and fix it in edits. That requires a lot of self awareness, or else a good critique partner who can call you on it.